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Gary Numan talks new LP ‘Intruder,’ flying and more

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Musician Gary Numan has always been considered by most American listeners as an artist ahead of his time and he admits that kind of bugs him. The Hammersmith, London native has enjoyed more than four decades of success in the U.K. and other parts of the world while the U.S. knows him primarily for the inexorably infectious top-10 new wave hit “Cars” from his 1979 solo debut “The Pleasure Principal.”

Numan has been mightily prolific over the last four decades. His just-issued 22nd studio album, “Intruder,” nearly topped the U.K chart while reaping some of the best reviews of his career.

The dark and rhythmically ethereal LP explores the concept of climate change from Earth’s perspective. His lyrics surmise what Earth might have to say about the ways it has been betrayed by its children and how it could begin to retaliate. Numan told us that news of the album’s number two debut brought him to tears.

Numan’s influence has been cited by a range of artists in multiple genres, including Prince, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Nirvana, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Lady Gaga and Smashing Pumpkins.

In the following interview, Gary Numan, calling from his home in Santa Monica, discusses his new LP’s warm reception and explains why his studio might look unimpressive but is actually more capable than any he’s used. He addresses his disparity in success between the U.K. and U.S.; He recalls his flight around the world that resulted in his arrest in India as a suspected spy, and gives fans a preview of his upcoming six-week fall tour of the U.S. and Canada.

The Maine Edge: Reviews of “Intruder” from critics have been overwhelmingly positive. More importantly, your fans love it. I sense that you’ve been taken by surprise by how well this album is being received.

Gary Numan: It has taken me a bit by surprise. It was a huge thing, I mean I cried when they gave me the news, it really meant the world to me. The last album (2017’s “Savage”) got to number two in the British chart as well, and that had been the best position for me for decades. The pressure has been on to maintain that level, so I had lots of worries and confidence issues when I was making “Intruder.” To see it come out, and to see the reaction, it’s been the best experience I’ve had.

The Maine Edge: How has your songwriting evolved over the years? Do you still write songs the same way or has technology altered your approach?

Gary Numan: The first stage is very much the same as it’s always been. You sit down at a piano or a keyboard that pretends to be a piano (laughs), and you start to write your tunes. From then on, everything is different. I sit in my studio and work out the melodies, then I swivel ninety degrees to the control panel and that’s where the technology lies. Then a whole world of layers and sounds are at your disposal, and that part is much different than it used to be.

My studio now is incredibly boring, there’s just one great big screen, one keyboard, a computer, a couple of speakers, and that’s it. There are no wires, no cables, there’s not even a hardware synthesizer in my studio. It’s pretty unimpressive to look at and yet it’s incredibly capable, far more so than any other conventional studio I’ve had through the years, so it’s a really cool place to work.

The Maine Edge: Many listeners and readers fondly recall your huge hit “Cars” and its accompanying video. You continued to have big hits in the UK and other parts of the world, but it didn’t seem that the United States was listening. Did that bother you at the time?

Gary Numan: It bothers me now, yes! (laughing) It really does. If there is any place in the world outside of Britain where you’d want to be super-successful, it would be the U.S. To have done it once was an amazing thing, and to see it fall away was very, very disappointing, and it remains that way. I have credibility in the U.S. which is a very cool thing to have but I don’t have the sales that I would have hoped for.

I think the most important thing is this: If you make music only with the intent to be successful then it’s going to be very demoralizing at times. But if you just love making music, success just becomes the cherry on the cake. Things have gone well in other places so my ego is intact, but yes, I would love to do better here.

The Maine Edge: I read that you had obtained your pilot’s license and flew your plane around the world during the early 1980s. What was that adventure all about? Was it an escape of some kind or was it that you just love to fly?

Gary Numan: It was both of those things actually. I love to fly, so much so that I became an air display pilot for about 15 years, doing low-level aerobatics for air shows all over Europe in old World War II airplanes. I used to teach pilots as an examiner. I think I had done two world tours at that point, and I wanted to try a different sort of adventure. I’d also fallen out of playing live for a while because I wasn’t enjoying the whole flying thing too much, it was just too mad and chaotic for me at the time. I wanted to bring everything back down (stops himself) to the ground I was going to say, so I flew around the world (laughing). Terrible way of explaining it, isn’t it?

I was looking for something different that required genuine courage and commitment. I felt I’d been very lucky with music and hadn’t really done anything to deserve all of the fuss that there was around me. I wanted something more demanding and adventurous, so I decided to fly around the world. I was very lucky to be in a position where I could do that.

The Maine Edge: Was that the trip where you landed in India only to be arrested as a spy?

Gary Numan: Yeah, we (Numan, with co-pilot, Bob Thompson) got arrested for two things - spying and smuggling (laughing), it was the maddest thing ever! I had two watches on, one set to local time and one set to international time. They were both cheap watches I’d purchased at a gas station in Britain. I said “You obviously think I’ve flown all the way to India to smuggle a watch - one watch - for which I’d paid £1.99.” It was the stupidest thing ever. On top of that, the airplane that they thought we were spying on had been built in Britain. You could actually do a tour of the factory and watch them being made. It was like Keystone Kops for real. It was frightening at the time but very funny to look back on now.

The Maine Edge: You’llsoon head out on a six-week fall tour of venues in the U.S. and Canada. What can fans look forward to when they come to the shows?

Gary Numan: We are definitely leaning heavily on music from “Intruder,” and the previous album, “Savage,” which is still very much current for me. Beyond that, we’ll obviously be doing “Cars,” “Metal,” and those early songs as well. It’s quite a mix but to be truthful, I wouldn’t want people to come along under false pretenses. The show will definitely lean heavily toward the newer stuff.

Last modified on Wednesday, 14 July 2021 12:04

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